Ireland currently has two Bills proposing changes in the benefits available to working parents that are expected to pass into law before the end of the year. The first proposes to increase parental leave from 18 to 26 weeks for children up to 12 years of age. The second provides for 2 weeks of paid parental benefit during the first year of a child's life.
Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill, 2017 ("the Parental Leave Bill")
The Parental Leave Bill was passed through Seanad Éireann on 8th May 2019. It is anticipated that the Bill will be approved by Dáil Éireann and signed by the President before the summer recess, with a view to introducing the increased parental leave entitlements from September 2019. In summary, the Parental Leave Bill provides the following improved changes for working parents:
- Parental leave will increase from 18 working weeks to 26 weeks' leave.
- Parents will be able to avail of this leave entitlement for each child up to 12 years of age. This increases the existing age limit of a child for whom a parent may exercise this right from 8 years of age. The current provision to take parental leave for a child with a long term illness or disability up to the child's 16th birthday remains unchanged.
- Parents who have already exhausted their 18 weeks' leave will also qualify for the additional 8 weeks proposed in the Bill.
It is expected that the leave will be introduced on a phased basis with 4 weeks of additional parental leave available to take from September 2019, increasing by a further 4 weeks from September 2020. This will allow small businesses the time to prepare for the new regime.
Parental Leave and Benefit Bill ("Parental Benefit Bill")
On 23rd April 2019, the Government announced the concept of paid parental leave to fulfil the commitment given in Budget 2019 last autumn. It is expected that the Bill will be enacted by November 2019, and potentially even before that, perhaps with the introduction of the additional leave mentioned above. The Parental Benefit Bill provides the following entitlements to working parents:
- A relevant parent (mother, father, spouse, civil partner or co-habitant of a relevant parent, or parent where the child is a donor-conceived child, as well as parents of adopted children) will be entitled to two weeks' paid parental leave (likely to be paid at the same level as maternity leave) during the first year of the child's birth or adoption (from 1st November 2019).
- Parental leave must be used for the purpose of taking care of, or providing assistance in the provision of care to the child.
- An employer may suspend any period of probation, apprenticeship or training while an employee is on parental leave. The employee will have to complete that period of probation, apprenticeship or training following their return to work.
- The benefit will apply equally to employees, and to those who are self-employed.
- The working parent will receive €245 per week, or an amount equivalent to illness benefit (whichever is the greater).
Although not currently included in the draft Parental Benefit Bill, it is expected that working parents will ultimately be able to benefit from 7 weeks' paid leave under the scheme, as it develops incrementally over the next three years.
Balancing working parents' rights with the EU
All of the above are significant advances for working parents in Ireland. The benefits will go far beyond those set out in the proposed EU Directive on work-life balance, which intends to provide greater flexibility to working parents and family carers across Europe.
Employers should start to prepare for the more flexible working world in which we live. Options to take parental leave more sporadically (including as a number of hours per working day) are all options that the EU anticipates will be a requirement to ensure that women remain in the workplace, and to encourage and promote male employees to take up parental leave and more flexible working arrangements. On balance, Ireland, will take a significant step forward in its promotion of a better work-life balance with the introduction of the benefits above in the autumn.
For further information on the proposed Work-Life EU Directive, please see the attached article - The Juggling Act
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